The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has become “decadent” in a way that it has reached “the zenith of its achievements” and they find themselves “utterly exhausted”, said Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
Professor Tan was speaking in a webinar titled, “Singapore’s GE2020: The real watershed election?” which was co-hosted by the Malaysia and Singapore Society of Australia (MASSA) on 11 September.
While he agrees that the term “watershed” is often being used to describe the elections in Singapore, he added “soul-searching” as another term, given that the PAP tend to do “a lot of soul-searching” after the elections especially when the results are “not so favourable”.
“The PAP may even gesture at remaking or re-energising the party, but it is in many respects incapable of reforming itself today,” said Professor Tan.
PAP retained its power by winning 61.2 per cent of the popular vote share in this year’s GE, but its support took a sharp fall compared to the previous elections as the opposition The Workers’ Party (WP) won two GRCs – Aljunied GRC and the newly-carved Sengkang GRC.
“Being incumbent for as long as it has, the original paternalist or authoritarianism of the post-colonial founding leaders, which was forged in heroic times has become entrenched today in a much less heroic, less transformative and certainly less inspiring technocracy,” he added.
Professor Tan described the PAP has been entrenched in the form of “an elite entitlement, defensive mindset, prickly personality and a dogmatic ideology that still dares to call itself pragmatic” after being in power for such a long time.
He noted that the PAP’s Members of Parliament (MPs) are aware of the limitations that curtail their full policy and political ambitions. They have to contend with “glass ceilings” and “an intricate web of OB [out of bounds] markers” in order to survive within the PAP’s hardline.
OB markers indicated the topics that are permissible for public discussion in Singapore.
“But I think that their inclusion, if this is not simply a basic attempt at co-optation, may be little more than a display to simulate diversity, to simulate inclusiveness and maybe win over some electoral support at the margins.”
Professor Tan opined that the city-state is ought to see more of an “elite implosion” in GE2020, alongside the “elite fragmentation and elite fracture”.
“The PAP government has become decadent,” he said. “Decadence in the way that it has reached the zenith of its achievements and these are considerable achievements.”
Professor Tan added that the PAP “find themselves utterly exhausted” with the rapid growth and development and the old theory of Singapore’s success “seems to have run its course”.
“This exhaustion points above all I think to an absence of originality of new and exciting ideas the absence of which mean that it’s very difficult to galvanize and to motivate Singaporeans for the future.
“So the PAP government seems instead to be self-referentially tethered to its own history and the success formulas that history narrates ad nauseam,” he explained, adding that the giants of the PAP’s own past have “infantilized” the party.
Professor Tan pointed out that the existing diversity which could be a potential source of dynamization and re-energization has continuously been “misrecognized and mischaracterized by the PAP hardliners as opponents or potential opponents”.
“They spend so much of their energies trying to discredit them to fix their opponents. I suspect GE 2020 will unleash a lot more fixing of this kind and it will be done in a politics of evermore sophisticated bullying.
“I look at elections and certainly GE 2020 not as the cause of change, certainly not the cause of political change in Singapore, but I see them as a reflection of a state of decline, the decline of a larger system and the PAP at the heart of this system,” he asserted.